Alinghi Completes Its Full Kiwi Feast

From Associated Press

Landlocked Switzerland became the first European country to win the 152-year-old America's Cup today, a historic victory by a crew loaded with New Zealanders who had been branded as traitors.

Skipper Russell Coutts took the cup from the country he brought it to in 1995, steering the whimsically named sloop Alinghi to a five-race sweep against hard-luck Team New Zealand, the two-time defending champion.

On a perfect day on the Hauraki Gulf, between Rangitoto and Tiritiri Matangi islands, Coutts again outsailed his former protege, Dean Barker, and led the entire race to end the long, bitter regatta.

Several European tycoons tried unsuccessfully over 15 decades to take back the trophy that the yacht America won by defeating a fleet of British schooners around the Isle of Wight in 1851. The one who finally won sailing's biggest prize was Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli, a 37-year-old biotech billionaire who scooped up the best Kiwi sailors his money could buy.

"I am a New Zealander. Make no bones about that," Coutts said during the champagne-splashed tow back to port. "But I am immensely proud of what we've achieved at Alinghi. It's been a lot of hard work for me, and as a professional sailor, frankly, I'm proud of what I've done."

Alinghi's winning margin in Race 5 was 45 seconds. The normally pokerfaced Coutts smiled and waved to a support boat as the black sloop with red swirls crossed the line.

Bertarelli, the first first-time challenger to win the cup, started celebrating a few hundred yards before the finish. He touched fists with tactician Brad Butterworth and shook hands with German-born strategist Jochen Schuemann, a three-time Olympic gold medalist.

The champagne arrived moments after the finish, and Alinghi hoisted a banner showing the America's Cup atop the Matterhorn, with the saying: "We did it!!!" They also hoisted a broom to celebrate the sweep.

The Kiwis quietly drank beer as their boat, NZL-82, was towed into the harbor.

Coutts, 41, capped a remarkable feat by sailing unbeaten through his third consecutive cup match. He has won a record 14 races in a row to become one of the greatest skippers in the event's colorful history.

Sailing a fast boat, Coutts and his crew were flawless and unflappable through a series that was marred by wild weather swings, spectacular breakdowns on Team New Zealand's boat and an undercurrent of resentment over Kiwi defections to foreign syndicates.

"We really didn't have any big weaknesses," Coutts said. "If you had looked at us in November 2000, you would have said, 'There's no way Alinghi can win the cup.' But somehow we managed to come through. We worked very, very hard on this project."

With his longtime friend and tactician Butterworth calling the shots, Coutts hit the starting line right on time in his 80-foot sloop; Barker was a second late. Alinghi controlled the right side of the course in 15 knots of wind, and gained immediately from a wind shift.

When the yachts converged on opposite tacks for the first time, Coutts crossed ahead and immediately tacked in front of the Kiwis, a "slam dunk" that established control.

Team New Zealand had another mishap, this time snapping its carbon-fiber spinnaker pole after the sail wrapped around it on the fourth leg. The crew had a spare but still lost time and trailed by 31 seconds after four legs of the six-leg, 18.5-nautical-mile course.

So dominant in the previous two cup regattas, Team New Zealand was weakened by the loss of one-third of its sailors and designers to other syndicates three years ago.

Bertarelli, the navigator, was one of only three Swiss on the 16-man crew for the clinching win.

Coutts became the first skipper to win the America's Cup for two countries. He set the record for overall victories in the America's Cup match with 14, breaking a tie with Dennis Conner.

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